With its first game of the season right around the corner, the Ohio State baseball team has some added motivation.
Despite posting a 35-23 record in 2013, the Buckeyes missed out on the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament after falling to Nebraska, 5-0, in the Big Ten Tournament May 25. That added incentive has the Buckeyes determined to win games early this season.
With all three starting pitchers (Brad Goldberg, Brian King and Jaron Long) in its starting rotation leaving after last season, coach Greg Beals said OSU’s new starters must establish themselves on the mound and take command of games, especially with the Buckeyes set to open the season against Connecticut Friday in Port Charlotte, Fla., as part of the Snowbird Classic.
OSU is also scheduled to play a doubleheader Saturday against Auburn and Indiana State, and one more game against Indiana State Sunday. Being part of the Snowbird Classic should help the team grow because of the strong competition and the chance to play outside after a rough winter, Beals said.
“It gives us the opportunity to see multiple teams, and this first weekend is a great opportunity to get out and be able to play four games,” Beals said. “We’re going to get to take batting practice out on the field, have a whole hour of practice each day before the game, it is going to be really important for us.”
Senior pitcher Greg Greve is slated to get the start against Connecticut, with junior pitcher Ryan Riga lined up for the start against Auburn, Beals said. The other two starters pitching against Indiana State have not yet been decided, he added.
Junior catcher Aaron Gretz said the end of last season was a reminder to the whole team just how imperative it is to win games early in the year if it has NCAA Tournament aspirations.
“The first game last year, if we won that one, we (had) a good shot at making the regional at the end of the year, but we ended up losing in extra innings,” Gretz said, referring to the 6-5 loss to Mercer in 10 innings Feb. 15, 2013. “One game can be the difference of being in a regional and out of the regional.”
Junior pitcher and the team’s closer, Trace Dempsey — who was named preseason second team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and third team by Louisville Slugger — said tournaments like the Snowbird Classic are vital to the success of the team down the stretch.
“Our main mission as a team is to represent Ohio State University in the NCAA tournament,” Dempsey said. “In order for us to do that, we have to win ballgames and we have 19 games before Big Ten play even starts, so we need to do really well in these games.”
If OSU wants to win games at the Snowbird Classic, players must commit to the system Beals has created for the team, Dempsey said.
“We need to play to our strengths, we’re going to be a pitching and defense team,” Dempsey said. “We’re going to scrap together some runs and get a couple doubles here and there to get some runs across, but if we stay within our identity — which has always been pitching and defense — then I think we’ll be OK.”
From what he has seen in practice, Gretz said he expects big things from the new pitchers in the starting rotation.
“This year, we’re going to be really good on the mound and defensively, I think just as good or even better than last year in those two aspects,” Gretz said.
Whether it is lingering disappointment from last season or a feeling of rejuvenation after seeing how the team has performed in practice, Dempsey said OSU has a dynamic energy about it he hasn’t seen before.
“In my three years here under Coach Beals, this has definitely been the most elevated intensity we’ve had. He has definitely raised the bar and expectation levels high,” Dempsey said. “My expectations are high (this weekend) — nothing less than four wins.”
First pitch against Connecticut Friday is set for 5 p.m., and game time is set for 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. against Auburn and Indiana State respectively Saturday with the finale of the weekend set for 1 p.m. Sunday against Indiana State.